The “Amen break” is a 5.2 second drum solo from an instrumental funk record entitled Amen brother performed by Soul/Funk band The Winstons.
Amen brother was released in 1969 on Metromedia Records. It was the B side to 7″ single entitled “Colour him farther“. The Amen break beat was first popularised by Hip Hop artists in the late 1980’s after its inclusion on the Ultimate breaks & Beats series compiled and edited by Louis Flores. In the 1990’s The Amen break beat formed one of the key elements of Jungle music that evolved via the Rave scene in the early to mid 1990’s in the United Kingdom.
To the present day the Amen break has been sampled hundreds of times by artists, producers and musicians from all different backgrounds and genres. From Jungle anthems like Super sharp shooter by DJ Zinc & The Ganga Kru to classic Hip Hop records like Straight outta Compton by N.W.A. It would appear that the music of today would sound very different if it was not for the creation of Amen brother by The Winstons.
A looped section of the Amen drum break is inserted in the below clip. Check to see if you recognise the drums:
The Amen break beat
So now you are familiar with the drum break it is time to explore the Musical DNA that went in to creating such a popular sample that has been such a prominent feature in classic Hip Hop & Dance music.
The single Colour him farther / Amen brother was released in 1969 and at the time sold over 1 million copies. The band consisted of the following musicians and since the late 1980’s Amen brother has been their most recognised piece of music:
- Gregory C. Coleman (vocals, drums)
- Ray Maritano (vocals, alto saxophone)
- Quincy Mattison (vocals, lead guitar)
- Sonny Pekerol (vocals, bass guitar)
- Richard Lewis Spencer (lead vocals, tenor saxophone)
- Phil Tolotta (second lead, organ)
The composition Amen brother is an up-tempo instrumental funk track similar in style to other Soul/Funk recording artists of the period such as Kool & The Gang, The Meters and the JBs. Below is an insert of The Winsons original recording:
The Winstons “Amen brother”
Amen brother was a remake of a composition called Amen originally composed by Jester Hairston for the 1963 film entitled Lillies in the field starring actor Sydney Poitier. Interestingly Jester Hairston original contained only vocals and was sang as an accapella by a choir. An insert of Amen from Lillies in the field can be heard in the clip below:
“Amen” from the film “Lillies in the field” composed by Jester Hairston
In 1964 Before The Winsons recorded Amen Brother, soul band The impressions recorded and released a version of Amen. The impressions version was recorded with a band and contained a horn section played in the same melody that is also recognisable in The Winstons composition of Amen brother.
The impressions version of Amen is inserted in the below clip:
The Impressions “Amen” 1964 on ABC Records
Further evidence to support the influence and inspiration of The Impressions on The Winstons creation of Amen brother can be heard on their 1967 recording entitled We’re a winner written by band member Curtis Mayfield. We’re a winner contains several of the same musical elements duplicated by The Winstons on their recording of Amen Brother.
We’re a winner by The Impressions however is a vocal track that addresses the issues of racial politics in America in the 1960’s. The below clip contains The Impressions recording of We’re a winner:
The impressions – “We’re a winner” 1967 on ABC-Paramount Records
In the early 1980’s”Amen brother by The Winstons was released on a unofficial bootleg compilation series called Octopus break beats. In 1986 the Octopus series were officially released under the more recognised name of Ultimate breaks & beats. These compilations were compiled and edited by Louis Flores and Lenny Roberts who were both involved in the Hip Hop culture of 1970’s New York.
Octopus break beats vol 1
Louis Flores edited Amen brother. The record was equalised to sound tougher and most notably when the drum solo plays the tempo of the song is slowed down from 45 rpm to 33 rpm extending the solo in length. It is clear to hear influence of Hip Hop culture contained in the Octopus / UBB series. These edited compilations became the building blocks for Hip Hop music created in the golden era when sampling technology became widely available.
The Louis Flores edited version of Amen brother from Ultimate Breaks & Beats Vol 1 can be heard in the below clip (starts time is at 5:24):
“Amen brother (Starts at 5:24)” Louis Flores edited version from Ultimate Breaks & Beats vol 1
In the late 1980’s sampling technology had developed to a point where it was possible to sample, arrange, and Repeat sections of music. As early as 1986 producers and recording artists of Hip Hop music had began to incorporate drum and horn stabs from Amen brother in to their compositions one of the earliest examples to loop the drum break was Salt N Pepa on I Desire which can be heard in the below clip:
Salt N Pepa “I Desire” 1986 Next Plateau Records
Between the years of 1986 and 1992 The Amen drum break was sampled and incorporated in to compositions by the majority of Hip Hop’s producers. Below are some examples of the diverse range of Hip Hop music that was created during these years:
N.W.A “Straight outta Compton” 1988 Ruthless Records
Mantronix “King of the beats” 1988 Capital Records
Third Bass “Wordz of wizdom” 1989 Def Jam
Erik B & Rakim “Casualties of war” 1992 MCA
Standin Ovation “Shadows of mayhem” 1992 Kold Sweat
What would further popularise the Amen drum break as well as the other drum breaks on the Ultimate Breaks & Beats series was their inclusion as 3 minute drum loops (similar to the one at the start of this article) on early DJ battle weapons such as Beats, Breaks & Scratches on Music Of Life Records. These albums were an easy way for the next generation of DJs and producers to obtain all the popular drum samples for use in their creations.
“Beats, Breaks, & Scratches Vol 4” 1989 Music Of Life
What started with Hip Hop music and sampling eventually evolved in to the creation of other music genres such as Rave, Jungle, Drum & Bass, Trip Hop, etc. At the same time Hip Hop was also evolving and diversifying as it continued it’s journey across the world.
While Hip Hop in the US started to slow down in tempo here in the UK Hip Hop inspired producers to experiment with break beats giving birth to Rave music, Jungle, and Drum & Bass. A lot of the Rave or Hardcore producers had grown up listening to popular Hip Hop artists like Public Enemy and N.W.A and were re-sampling popular break beats and speeding them up. In the early 1990’s this new style of music was simply known as Rave but as the scene progressed its followers split in to 2 sub genres known as Happy Hardcore and Jungle/Drum & Bass. The Amen break was like several other breaks popular with Rave producers, an example of the Rave scene’s use of the Amen break can be heard in the below insert by Dance Conspiracy:
Dance Conspiracy “Dub war” XL Recordings 1992
It’s hard to imagine what Jungle music would have sounded like if The Winstons had never recorded Amen Brother as it was incorporated in to so many creations of the Jungle era. Below is a small selection of the many Jungle tracks that sampled the Amen break:
DJ Zinc/The Ganja Kru “Super sharp shooter” 1995 Ganja Records
Dead Dred “Dred bass” 1994 Moving Shadow
Urban Shakedown “The Arsonist” 1995 Urban Shakedown
The Fugees “Ready or not” DJ Hype remix 1996
Amazingly the Amen break is still being sampled today over 40 years after Amen Brother by The Winstons was released. Again and again the signature sound of the Amen drums can be heard in music from a variety of genres.
Music as we know it today would sound a lot different if it wasn’t for Jester Hairston‘s composition of Amen for the film Lillies in the field. If The Impressions had not been inspired to cover Amen and record We’re a winner then The Winstons may not have been inspired to record Amen brother. If Louis Flores had not edited Amen Brother and included the track on the Ultimate Breaks & Beats series it would have not been sampled as excessively on golden era Hip Hop records. Which in turn would not have paved the way for Rave, Jungle, Drum & Bass and most other forms of modern Dance music.
A full list of music that has sampled Amen brother by The Winstons is available to view at the disgogs website
This is the first of a series of articles. Please visit the Classic Break Beats section of the website for further break beat related articles.